In our recent SMB survey in North America, Europe and Asia/Pacific we explored 14 potential sources of information on technology solutions. Some of these, such as TV or newspaper/magazine advertising, are clearly ‘top of the funnel’ options, intended to build awareness. Some options, including brochures and fact sheets, help to build consideration for specific solutions amongst prospective customers who are considering a specific type of solution. A third set of information sources, including product reviews on websites, case studies and whitepapers are primarily intended to build preference. And a fourth set, including seminars and face-to-face sales calls are used to convert prospects into closed business. Complicating these categorizations is the presence of options, such as the manufacturer’s website, that address multiple points in this process spectrum.
Which of these sources is most important to reaching a potential SMB buyer? Unsurprisingly (given the increasing complexity of the DMU [Decision Making Unit]), the answer is “it depends”. Our research, as shown in the figure below, demonstrates that manufacturer website is an important source of information for small and medium businesses, and for ITDMs and BDMs [ITDM and BDM data not shown in the figure]. We also see that recommendations, IT news and analysis sites and personal sales calls help drive behavior.
What is really interesting, though, is the extent to which the data indicates use of multiple sources. Except in the mid-market, each of the top five information sources is used by more than one-third of the target audience; except in small business, each of the top 10 sources is used by at least 19% of the target. As the statistics regarding pre-contact information gathering above suggests, buyers are doing extensive research before connecting with potential suppliers – and potential suppliers need to be present in the media that the buyers are using, to make it past awareness to the consideration and preference stages that often occur beyond the purview of the IT vendor.
If we look again at the information sources listed in the figure above, we can appreciate the ways in which the channel can support the overall sales process. For example, small businesses like to get personal calls from suppliers – but calls like these to small businesses are far more likely to originate from a local channel representative than from a manufacturer. Similarly, BDMs are looking for personalized service and recommendations – but many IT suppliers, OEMs and channel partners alike, lack the understanding needed to communicate meaningfully with this audience. Who needs to be involved to help direct these discussions?
Vendors need to engage with SMB customers while the solution is being defined – not when the only decisions remaining are “whose components, and at what cost”? SMB buyers are using high-value content to define their IT buying approaches. Vendors need to build messages around/within high-value content to ensure that they can influence solution design and preferences.